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In U.S., Majority of Smokers Feel Discriminated Against

In U.S., Majority of Smokers Feel Discriminated Against
by Art Swift

Story Highlights

  • 56% of smokers believe they are discriminated against
  • 17% who are overweight say they are victims of discrimination
  • Discrimination against overweight essentially unchanged since 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A majority of smokers in the U.S., 56%, believe they are at least occasionally discriminated against in public life or employment because of their smoking. In comparison, just one in six Americans (17%) who are overweight feel they have been discriminated against at some point because of their weight.

Smokers Feel Discriminated Against; Overweight People Do Not
How often do you feel discriminated against in public life or employment because of your ... -- [ROTATED: every day, every week, about once a month, a few times a year, less than once a year (or) never]?
Every day Every week About once a month A few times a year Less than once a year Never
% % % % % %
Smoking 13 8 8 13 14 44
Weight 1 2 3 7 4 83
Note: Asked of U.S. adults who are smokers and asked of U.S. adults who say they are overweight
Gallup, July 5-9, 2017

Thirteen percent of smokers say they feel discrimination every day, while only a fraction of self-described overweight people (1%) say they are discriminated against daily. These results come from a July 5-9 Gallup poll on Americans' consumption habits.

Discrimination against smokers can take many forms. According to news reports, smokers often say they are discriminated against through smoking bans, including more recent bans at some parks and beaches, higher insurance rates, and not getting jobs because of their habit. Analysis of income patterns has shown smokers earn less than those who do not smoke, although this difference could result from smokers tending to have lower average levels of education than nonsmokers.

The poll is the first time Gallup has asked about smokers' perceived discrimination in this format. Previously, Gallup asked smokers whether they felt discriminated against specifically because of smoking restrictions and high cigarette taxes, and found 58% believed they were discriminated against on each account.

Gallup asked overweight Americans about perceived discrimination one other time, in July 2003. The current results are virtually unchanged from the 82% of overweight in the U.S. who expressed this same sentiment in 2003.

Percentage of Americans Who Say They Are Discriminated Against Because of Weight Holds Steady
How often do you feel discriminated against in public life or employment because of your weight -- [ROTATED: every day, every week, about once a month, a few times a year, less than once a year (or) never]?
Every day Every week About once a month A few times a year Less than once a year Never
% % % % % %
July 2017 1 2 3 7 4 83
July 2003 2 2 4 5 4 82
Note: Asked of U.S. adults who say they are overweight
Gallup

Fast Company quotes those who are overweight as saying they have faced discrimination because of hiring practices or not getting salary raises and promotions. Others have pointed to bullying and peer pressure while growing up, though most Americans who are overweight say they are never discriminated against in public life or their workplace.

Bottom Line

As the smoking rate continues to drop -- 17% of Americans in Gallup's July survey say they smoke -- fewer U.S. adults may potentially be subject to anti-smoking discrimination. But current smokers say they are discriminated against, with 13% saying they face discrimination daily. While there are smokers' rights groups in the U.S. fighting against discrimination, Gallup has found that the economic cost of smoking is significant.

Adults who smoke accrue $2,132 more per year in healthcare costs than nonsmokers, adding $92 billion in annual healthcare costs to the U.S. economy. These added healthcare costs do not justify discrimination, but they may contribute to perceptions of discrimination. Secondhand smoke and its effects are also likely a factor in discrimination.

In that same Gallup survey, adults who are overweight are calculated to accumulate about $378 more per person each year in healthcare costs than those who are not overweight, while those who are technically obese have $1,580 more in costs per person every year. Not as many overweight Americans feel discriminated against, but one in six do.

Both behaviors have health costs and clearly a stigma associated with each. There are fewer smokers than people who are overweight, but smokers are more likely to feel the brunt of this stigma.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

For results based on the sample of 147 smokers, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±10 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. For results based on the sample of 438 adults who say they are overweight, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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